I want to drive

I came to driving pretty late really. I didn’t get my Learners license until I was 35 year old. Once I had a taste for it however, I never looked back. Driving wasn’t just about getting from a to b, it was freedom. I know that sounds really corny, and it probably is, but that’s what it was.

Of course 2019 changed all that. When I got home from hospital in the May, when I still had what I thought was control over my feet, I tried to drive, but nope. I couldn’t control my feet enough, and ended up bunny hopping down the street. After I got home the second time, I didn’t even try. I’d let my license lapse while I was hospital as I’d given up on driving as a thing all together.

Up until a few months ago I was still pretty sure that driving wasn’t going to be something that was in my future. Even with modifications to the car I face a huge hurdle in the neuropathic pain and spasms I was experiencing. At their worst they are completely debilitating, forcing me to basically go to bed for the duration (and this may be a number of hours). If I had one of those while driving that would be not so good.

Luckily (and fingers crossed) I seem to be getting on top of the pain/spasms with the combination of medication that I’m on. Between the Lyrica, Baclafin and CBD Oil the pain/spasms have settled down to the point where I’m actually going to start looking at getting the van modified with hand controls and learning how to drive.

What this means for this blog, is I’m going to be talking about the various tech options for people with disabilities when it comes controlling their mobility and either retaining or regaining a sense of independence.

I’m going to be talking about modifying vehicles for people in wheelchairs, I’m going to be talking about the future and the challenges that the first true EV enthusiasts face with the shift from internal combustion to electric transportation. Heck I might even look at how people with disabilities can learn how to fly.

Scripting, what is it?

A little while ago I said that I had two wheelchairs, one powered and one manual. I also have a hospital style bed and a bathroom chair. All of these devices allow me to live my life in a way I otherwise wouldn’t be able to. I am forever grateful to programs like the NDIS and the NSW Governments Enable program, without which there is absolutely no way I would have been able to afford them.

So there’s a process you go through when you look at getting a wheelchair or other type of “Assistive Tech”. It’s called scripting.

Let’s take my powered wheelchair as an example.

Powered wheelchair with custom cushion

Scripting is the process where you and an Occupational Therapist work together to find the best combination of features within an item to meet your particular needs. For instance, when it comes to working out what sort of power chair I’m going to need we need to factor in the following:

  • I’m 194cm tall when standing
  • I’m overweight regardless of sitting, standing or lying down
  • I have a dodgy shoulder (tends to dislocate on its own every now and then)
  • I have leg spasms (ranging from urgh thats annoying to full on high kicks)

With the above in mind, and the fact that I would be spending a lot of time in this thing, we came up with a list of requirements.

  • It must be able to support my upper back and head. This means that it has to have a tall back and longer headrest than normal.
  • As I still get spasms the chair must be able to allow me to lie back to relieve pressure on my lower back
  • It must be able to support my weight
  • It must have a reasonable range (hey wheelchair users were talking about range anxiety long before Tesla came along)
  • It must allow for custom cushions (in order to avoid developing pressure sores)

So using the above criteria I worked with my Occupational Therapist and a supplier to find the best model that suited my needs. We tested a couple of different models before settling on the model that we did, the Permobil M300 HD.

Scripting can be and should be a collaborative process. Your Occupational Therapist will of course have the knowledge to suggest solutions, but at the end of the day, this is something that will be supporting you and your circumstances. For my circumstances I needed something to get me around a house and suburban streets. I have full control of my upper limbs so I didn’t need much modifications (though I did ask for and get a coffee cup holder). However my circumstances are not those of the farmer I met in rehab. He needed something that would allow him to move around the farm so his chair was going to need to be more rugged.